South African introduction to the “The Role of the Revolutionary Organisation” – ARM – 1994

This is the 1994 South African introduction to The Role of the Revolutionary Organisation. It is attributed to “L.V” on the second page of what is described as the “South African Edition 1994.”


The role of the revolutionary organisation is a contentious question which has dogged and divided the left for decades. This
pamphlet presents an Anarchist – Communist perspective. The issues it covers include a discussion of working class spontaneity,the relationship between the revolutionary organisation and the working class, the tasks of the revolutionary organisation before and during revolution, and the composition and structure of the revolutionary organisation.

One point to which we want to draw attention to is the reference to a “libertarian front ” composed of a variety of revolutionary groups and structures (p.6). This is an important point to note, because it shows that, while the pamphlet refers to the revolutionary organisation, it conceives of this as part of a wider grouping, which we have called, in our other pamphlets the “revolutionary (or libertarian) movement . ” Please note that this is not the same as the mass movement of the working people as a whole.

Although an undoubtedly important document, this pamphlet is unfortunately no t without its problems. Firstly it fail s to present any sustained critique of the Leninist conception of revolutionary organisation, which remains the predominant view on the Left.  We have dealt with this question more thoroughly in our pamphlet The Tragedy of the Russian Revolution, based on the testimony of the great Anarchist Alexander Berkman.

Secondly,the distinction drawn between a revolutionary organisation and working class movement- grassroots organisations (eg. squatters groups) and revolutionary bodies (eg. workers councils) – is a bit arbitrary. For example, an Anarcho – syndicalist organisation !Anarchist trade union) would seem to have transcended this distinction.

Finally, racism and sexism tend to be simplistically treated as ruling class ploys to “divide” the working class. Actually, its more
likely that race and sex oppression are forms of oppression separate from, but interlinked with, class oppression. That is, they are not the same as class oppression, but  lass divisions do affect the way they are experienced (eg. are homeland leaders “oppressed”?), and racism and sexism operate in the best interests of the ruling class.




About Lucien van der Walt

I teach at Rhodes University, the Eastern Cape. I’m South African, born and bred. I have long been involved in union education, and have a background in social movement and left-wing activism, the Workers’ Library and Museum, the Anti-Privatisation Forum, and the National Health and Allied Workers Union (NEHAWU). I’ve presented or published 100s of papers conferences and workshops, published in key journals like 'Capital and Class' and 'Labor History', have co-edited 4 journal specials (these on global labour history, African labour, and unions in the Global South), and produced five books. I was Southern Africa editor for the 2009 'International Encyclopaedia of Revolution and Protest' (Blackwell). My focus has been on South Africa, but I have also done research in Zambia and Zimbabwe. I won the 2008 international 'Labor History' thesis prize, and the 2008/2009 Council for the Development of Social Science Research prize for best African dissertation, for my PhD thesis on South African anarchism, syndicalism and black militants. My books includd include 'Politics at a Distance from the State: Radical and African Perspectives' (2018, co-edited with Kirk Helliker), 'Negro e Vermelho: anarquismo, sindicalismo revolucionário e pessoas de cor na África Meridional nas décadas de 1880-1920,' and 'Anarchism and Syndicalism in the Colonial and Postcolonial World, 1880-1940: the praxis of national liberation, internationalism, and social revolution' (co-edited with Steve Hirsch, Brill, 2010/ 2014).